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Special Report: Thousands of teens experiencing neglect

The Children’s Society warns that teenagers are being neglected, impacting on their behaviour, health and wellbeing

depression, teen depression, pain, suffering, tunnel

Three teenagers in every Year 10 classroom are suffering from parental neglect, The Children’s Society has warned.

A report by the children’s charity found that tens of thousands of teenagers across England are suffering neglect at home, with many parents under the false pretence that teenagers need less care and support than younger children.

As a result, neglected young people are turning to alcohol, cigarettes and are more likely to truant from school. Neglect is also impacting on their physical health and mental wellbeing.

Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, said: “It is deeply worrying that so many teenagers in this country are suffering neglect. No child should be left feeling that no one cares about them.

“Teenagers are often seen as more resilient than younger children. But, of course, they still need care from their parents to meet their needs, support their education and keep them safe,” he adds.

One in seven teens reported neglect

The report, ‘Understanding Adolescent Neglect: Troubled Teens,’ highlights that neglect is the form of maltreatment most often recorded in official safeguarding data, regardless of the age of the children concerned, and is the most prevalent form of maltreatment young people.

Neglect can lead to significant problems – including with mental health problems, substance misuse, school (attendance, behaviour and attainment), offending and early sexual activity – and can be the precursor of serious harm, the charity warns.

Researchers surveyed the level of care 14 and 15 year olds in Year 10 received from their parents.

The majority of 14 and 15 year olds stated that their parents ‘always’ exhibited all the behaviours that were asked about – with the largest proportions reporting high levels of physical care and supervision, although proportionally less reported the same frequency for educational or emotional support.

Poor health

The report found that one in seven (15%) reported some form of neglect. They described experiences with parents or carers who failed to monitor their activities outside the home or make sure they got adequate health care or took little interest in their education.

It highlighted how:

  • 8% of young people reported neglectful levels of parenting in relation to emotional support.
  • 8% had experienced supervisory neglect.
  • 5% of young people reported neglect for physical care
  • 4% reported neglect for educational support.
  • Around one in seven young people (15%) reported at least one form of neglectful parenting.
  • 58% had experienced one form in isolation, with almost half this group indicating supervisory neglect.
  • Reports of all four forms of neglect co-occurring were rare with just 1% experiencing this.

The charity highlighted how young people who were materially deprived and lacking possessions, resources or experiences which were common to their peer group, were more likely to be neglected than their peers. However this could have been because their parents or carers chose not to spend money on them rather than because the household they lived in was deprived.

More boys reported lower levels of parental supervision than girls with 11% of boys being neglected compared to 5% of girls. More young people living in lone parent families were neglected in relation to educational support than those living in other family forms, however they were not neglected in terms of emotional support, physical care or supervision, the report found.

The children’s charity highlights how neglected young people were more likely to experience poor health. Twenty eight per cent of those whose parents had not been supportive around their education said their health was ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’. This was in comparison to 3% of those who were ‘cared for’ in relation to this type of parenting. In addition, 21% of those who had been physically neglected gave the same response in relation to their health compared to just three per cent of teenagers who reported being cared for.

‘There is a need to take adolescent neglect seriously’

Young people in neglected groups for each form of parenting were significantly more likely to behave in ways which risked their health or jeopardised their future opportunities. The report found that, for emotional support, 27% of neglected young people had truanted at least once in the past month compared to 13% of cared for young people, and 46% had got really drunk in the past few months compared to 22%.

Emotional health was at risk too. Researchers asked teens about their well-being – how they felt about themselves and their lives - and uncovered a bleak picture, with neglected teenagers significantly more likely to be dissatisfied with their lives, pessimistic about their futures and lacking in confidence in their abilities. Children who reported frequent support from parents were more likely to have higher levels of well-being.

Teenagers who reported multiple forms of neglect (neglect in relation to two or more categories of parenting behaviour) reported significantly worse levels of well-being than their counterparts who indicated neglect for one type of parenting alone.

“This study revealed that neglected teenagers tend to report doubts about their competence, have little faith that anyone cares about them, feel pessimistic about the future and are dissatisfied with their lives overall,” said the report. “Also, although there was some variability in the associations between multiple forms of neglect and the externalising behaviours surveyed (eg on drinking alcohol and truanting for school), there was a consistent association between experiencing a combination of different forms of neglect and deteriorations across measures of well-being.”

“These findings underline the need to take adolescent neglect seriously, because young people who experience it are also likely to suffer a pernicious undermining of their well-being regardless of whether they exhibit other negative behaviours,” the report added.

Step change

In addition, The Children’s Society warns that these findings may underestimate the scale of adolescent neglect as they are based solely on the reports of young people who were attending mainstream schools and therefore do not account for those in specialist provision, those without a school place, children missing from the system or those in private schools, whose experience of neglect may be different.

The charity argues that teenagers are often wrongly seen as needing less care and support than younger children. It is calling for a step change in the way the parenting of teenagers is viewed and wants better support and advice for parents too often struggling with the challenges of bringing up teenagers.

Very limited support and advice currently exists for families with teenage children. The Children’s Society wants the Government to provide parenting support focussed on the needs of teenagers as part of its Life Chances Strategy.

“Our research makes clear the central role of parental care and emotional support to the well-being of young people. With little dedicated advice readily available for parents of teenagers, we need to provide more support to parents bringing up teenagers, not to blame them. The Government has a massive role to play in making sure the needs of teenagers, and their parents, are never forgotten. Society must not give up on teens,” Matthew Reed concluded.

Troubled Teens: A study of the links between parenting and adolescent neglect







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